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I've had COVID, am I protected? Do I still have to respect physical distance, wash my hands, wear the mask...?

Text updated on 2020-09-23

One doesn't know how long they're immune after their first SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection. A few cases of re-infections have been observed, but it is not yet known how often re-infections occur. It is therefore necessary to remain vigilant and continue to apply barrier gestures and to wear a mask.

Yes, you're protected, but the duration of the protection is unknown at this time. The duration of immunity varies according to viral infections. For cold coronaviruses, immunity is about 30 months. For the measles virus, which is not a coronavirus, immunity lasts for life. In the case of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, it is still too early to know how long the protection lasts. It may only last a few weeks. It is therefore necessary to remain vigilant and continue to respect the barrier gestures, wash your hands frequently, and wear a mask, even if it feels restrictive.

There are a few known cases of coronavirus re-infection, some with more severe symptoms the second time and some without symptoms the second time. See the question Can we catch COVID twice?. If you are re-infected with theSARS-CoV-2 virus, have an asymptomatic form, and no longer follow the barrier gestures or mask wearing, you risk transmitting the coronavirus and unknowingly infecting others.

Furthermore, our hands can be a vector of transmission without us being infected. If we touch a coronavirus-contaminated SARS-CoV-2surface, we can carry it to another surface. So you can infect other people without being infected with the coronavirus yourself.

Finally, hand washing protects against many other viruses and bacteria. Therefore, you should continue to wash your hands to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, just like other infections!

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Analysis of serological and clinical data accumulated in the Netherlands in ten men (aged 27-40 years at the start of the study) for 35 years, from 1985 to 2020, who volunteered to have blood samples taken approximately every 3-6 months. A total of 132 common cold coronavirus (HCoV: NL63, 229E, OC43 and HKU1) infections were detected, i.e. between 3 and 22 infections per individual. A similar median reinfection time of approximately 30 months was measured for each of the 4 cold coronaviruses. In some cases, re-infection with the same coronavirus occurred 6 months after the first one. For each coronavirus, there are half as many infections from May to September as from December to March.

Edridge, A. W., Kaczorowska, J. M., Hoste, A. C., Bakker, M., Klein, M., Jebbink, M. F., .... & Sastre, P. (2020). Coronavirus protective immunity is short-lasting. MedRxiv.

Immunity to the measles virus lasts a lifetime.

Rota, P. A., Moss, W. J., Takeda, M., & de Swart, R. L. (2016). Thompso n KM, Goodson JL. Measles. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2016 July 14; 2: 16049. doi: 10.1038/nrdp.

Study reporting the case of a patient who tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus on his return from Spain, at the Hong Kong airport, four and a half months after a first infection. The differences between the viral RNA sequences collected during the two infectious episodes confirm that these are two successive independent infections.

To, K. K. W., Hung, I. F. N., Ip, J. D., Chu, A. W. H., Chan, W. M., Tam, A. R., ... & Lee, L. L. Y. (2020). COVID-19 re-infection by a phylogenetically distinct SARS-coronavirus-2 strain confirmed by whole genome sequencing. Clinical Infectious Diseases.

In this preprint, the authors report the case of a 25-year-old patient from Reno, Nevada, who developed a severe form of COVID-19 (with hospitalization and need for continuous oxygen supply) one month after the end of symptoms associated with a first infection that did not require hospitalization. Differences in viral RNA sequences between the two infectious episodes confirm that this is a reinfection and not a resurgence of the first infection.

Tillett, R., Sevinsky, J., Hartley, P., Kerwin, H., Crawford, N., Gorzalski, A., ... & Farrell, M. (2020). Genomic Evidence for a Case of Reinfection with SARS-CoV-2. Available at SSRN 3680955.

Measurement of the stability of the virus under different environmental conditions.

Chin, A., Chu, J., Perera, M., Hui, K., Yen, H. L., Chan, M., ... & Poon, L. (2020). Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. The Lancet Microbe.

Several people in the same family have been infected by asymptomatic individuals.

Ye, F., Xu, S., Rong, Z., Xu, R., Liu, X., Deng, P., ... & Xu, X. (2020). Delivery of infection from asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 in a familial cluster. International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Antibody persistence in the MERS disease 34 months after infection in 6 of 7 patients tested.

Payne, D. C., Iblan, I., Rha, B., Alqasrawi, S., Haddadin, A., Al Nsour, M., ... & Tamin, A. (2016). Persistence of antibodies against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Emerging infectious diseases, 22(10), 1824.

Study in 176 patients infected with the SARS-CoV-1 virus which shows that the average duration of immunity against this disease is 24 months.

Wu, L. P., Wang, N. C., Chang, Y. H., Tian, X. Y., Na, D. Y., Zhang, L. Y., ... & Liang, G. D. (2007). Duration of antibody responses after severe acute respiratory syndrome. Emerging infectious diseases, 13(10), 1562.

Further reading

How does she get COVID-19 ?

Why put on a mask?

Do I have to wear a mask if I don't have any symptoms?